Exclusive: DfE back-to-school help half a term late

After delays with laptops, meal vouchers and catch-up tutoring, government criticised for delay with wellbeing scheme
6th November 2020, 5:00am


Exclusive: DfE back-to-school help half a term late

Coronavirus: The Dfe Has Been Criticised Over The Delivery Of Its Back-to-school Wellbeing & Mental Health Scheme

Another key Department for Education Covid-19 school support programme has been hit by a major delay, Tes can reveal.

Ministers are being accused of basing policy on "soundbites" after it emerged that a programme to help mental health and wellbeing in schools amid the pandemic - supposed to begin at the start of the academic year - is half a term late. 

Back in August, the £8 million Wellbeing for Education Return programme was pledged to every school and college in England as a way to help "wellbeing, resilience and recovery... and to prevent longer-term mental health problems developing" as schools returned after lockdown.

However, Tes has learned that "the rollout to schools is only just starting", and that some schools that don't know about the programme have already been spending cash on their own wellbeing schemes.

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The news follows criticisms of the government over its delays with delivering laptops, as well as over free school meals vouchers and catch-up tutoring. 

Joint-general secretary of the NEU teaching union Mary Bousted said it was "yet another grand announcement with a lack of delivery".

She said: "Everyone is getting wise to these announcements which sound great, but then, like Waiting for Godot, nothing happens.

"It seems like policy is being made on soundbites on what the government can say to demonstrate they've covered each point off - but as these ideas haven't been thought through, and as they are coming on stream late, how they can possibly work becomes more and more doubtful."

Dr Bousted also questioned how the scheme's wellbeing experts could go into schools to train staff because of Covid security, and she asked how teachers would have time to do the training with all the extra demands on them, including having to cover for colleagues who are self-isolating.

She said the wellbeing scheme "felt like an irrelevance" when schools were not getting help with "the basics" such as staff workload, social distancing, cleaning, and test and trace.

Hailing the scheme as it was announced in August, mental health minister Nadine Dorries said the pandemic "has had huge consequences" and that "school staff have had their lives turned upside down."

She said: "That is exactly why we are ensuring the right support is in place for when school returns this September."

But Margaret Mulholland, SEND and inclusion specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said last week that "the rollout to schools is only just starting" and that some schools were not even aware of it, and were spending their own cash on wellbeing. 

She said that "it may be too late as a short-term intervention" but praised the programme as an "ambitious strategy" and called for it to be available for "as long as schools need it".

She said: "We need additional comms from the DfE about the opportunities for schools and trusts to work with local experts in each local authority. ASCL will certainly be promoting this.

"Many schools are committing budget to support mental health and wellbeing CPD and must be made aware that this additional resource exists - the chance to train a lead practitioner in each school."

Justin Reilly, a former teacher who now runs a company providing safeguarding software to schools, said: "Schools needed this as soon as possible; the clue is in the name - Wellbeing for Education Return."

The DfE says local authorities have been able to access training, funding and materials for the programme since September ahead of delivering training to schools and colleges.

It says it has allowed local authorities to work with schools to introduce the training at "a time that is appropriate", but that September may not have been "an appropriate time" and that schools may have had other priorities.

A DfE spokesperson said: "There has been no delay to the Wellbeing for Education Return scheme - 97 per cent of councils have taken up the offer of training to support local schools and colleges, having received funding and materials in September. 

"Schools and councils can decide how to engage with the programme, and local areas are taking a range of approaches to deliver training and support in a way that is most appropriate for them and the demands on their time."

The DfE says the training is delivered on the internet via webinars so no physical visits to schools are required.


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